Goalkeeping is perhaps the most underrated art in the beautiful game. Those who perform it to the highest level are often not lauded as much as a striker who gets 30 goals a season, but their place in a team is of vast importance.
Germany currently has one of the greatest goalkeepers of all-time, Manuel Neuer, but one of his predecessors, Oliver Kahn, set the benchmark for the nation’s No.1 jersey.
Like Neuer, Kahn’s greatest domestic days are remembered at Bayern Munich, where he forged a reputation as a colossus between the sticks, a keeper who would not give the defenders in front of him a moment’s rest. If they stood still, glanced at the floor or didn’t display the correct body language, Kahn’s voice would be heard screaming orders to them.
He was eerily reminiscent of Manchester United great, Peter Schmeichel, a man who, at times, looked possessed, so insistent on arranging his defenders in the correct position. To put it simply, thwarting opposition strikers was their drug and you better believe they were addicts.
Neuer is more of an image of composure, Kahn’s was more that of an untamed beast, yet the results from their exploits were virtually the same. The duo also didn’t start their careers in Bavaria, they arrived in Munich as stars ready to further their careers.
Neuer arrived from Schalke, but Kahn joined from a rather more obscure source; Karlsruher SC, the city where he was born. It was here that the young man grew from the junior sides into a first-team goalkeeping behemoth. For seven years, after his senior debut in 1987, Kahn was the driving force of the German minnows helping them reach the 1993/94 UEFA Cup semi-final.
After the conclusion of that campaign, Germany’s hottest property followed the route that seemingly every player of such calibre follows; a move to Bayern Munich. The next 14 years that followed – he would retire in Bavaria in 2008 – Kahn went from talented prospect to one of the game’s most charismatic legends.
Eight Bundesliga titles, six DFB-Pokal Cups and a Champions League trophy highlight just how successful he was. Kahn’s personality was tailor-made for the limelight he regularly found himself in, he was a celebrity, a character which fans adored. Having a player of such character is not a requirement but it perfectly complimented his ability.
There were, of course, moments of madness in the irregular mind of Kahn, none more prominent than when he literally punched the ball into the net against Hansa Rostock in 2001. After coming up for a corner, the goalkeeping enigma must have forgotten the ethics code in the opposition’s penalty area and fired the ball into the net with his iron fists.
Yes, sometimes a dark voice got the better of him but most of the time, he was a brutally efficient shot-stopper. The greatest showing of his ilk was at the 2002 World Cup where, amazingly, he picked up the tournament’s Golden Ball award.
Few times have displays of pragmatism been viewed in such high stead at a major international tournament. Although Fabio Cannavaro repeated the feat four years later and did go on to lift the Ballon d’Or, defensive players must have been the fad back then.
Kahn was a revolutionary, making goalkeeping into a true art and his service to Bayern is always recognised universally. A true giant of the game who you wouldn’t dare disobey.